B’Tselem to the ICC prosecutor: stop Israel from committing a war crime in South Hebron Hills

B’Tselem to the ICC prosecutor: stop Israel from committing a war crime in South Hebron Hills

This week (Monday, 3 October 2022), Israeli human rights group B’Tselem wrote to the the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, requesting his urgent intervention to stop Israel from its efforts to expel Palestinian communities from their homes and lands in the South Hebron Hills (in the southern West Bank).

Israel has been trying to drive these communities out for decades, but has recently escalated its actions – in scope, severity, and frequency – following the May 2022 ruling by Israel’s Supreme Court. The ruling, which contravened international law provisions and basic moral principles, reached the conclusion that the residents have no right to live on the land and there is no legal impediment to expelling them.

Israel has made the residents lives a nightmare: they suffer daily threats by soldiers and settlers to their bodies and property, as well as noise and pollution hazards, routine damage to infrastructure, incessant invasion of their privacy and constant uncertainty over their future. Recently, the military conducted in the area activities presented as military trainings, using live fire and driving armed vehicles – including tanks – through the communities and near them. Israel is also working to cut these small communities off from their surroundings, with the military placing roadblocks, confiscating cars and hindering activists, journalists and diplomats from accessing the area.

B’Tselem attached to the letter an addendum detailing dozens of incidents in the area since June 2022, which illustrate the violent, day-to-day, reality Israel is imposing on these communities. In its letter, B’Tselem emphasized that while Israel has since 1999 avoided direct expulsion, it is subjecting the residents to intolerable living conditions in an indirect bid to drive them away. This implicit tactic might better obscure Israel’s intention to commit a war crime, but there’s no ambiguity about it: it is the same objective, and it is the same crime.

B’Tselem called upon ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan to initiate a preventive intervention and caution Israel that it is moving forward with a war crime, since forcible transfer of residents in occupied territory is a violation of Article 8(2)(a)(vii) of the Rome Statute. B’Tselem stressed that while this policy has been implemented for decades, current responsibility lies with Israel’s top officials – including the prime minister, the defense minister, the chief of staff, OC Central Command, the head of the Civil Administration, and the High Court justices who sanctioned the policy.

Executive Director Hagai El-Ad, who signed the letter, explained that Israel’s apartheid regime is forcing “1,000 or so Palestinian residents of the South Hebron Hills into a humiliating bare-bones existence, making their lives miserable enough so that they will leave their homes and land, and the state will take over the area.” He added: “We request your urgent intervention in this case in order to allow these communities to live with dignity, basic security and certainty about their future. When Israel sought to expel the Palestinian community of Khan al-Ahmar (located east of Jerusalem), intervention by the Office of the Prosecutor (October 2018) stopped Israel”.